A theory on the origin of the Bedford school of gunsmithing

The Bedford school of gunsmithing is a collector-defined category that is based on the distinctive design of surviving rifles from Bedford County, Pennsylvania. To the best of my knowledge, the earliest surviving Bedford County rifles were made by these six master gunsmiths:

  • WHITE, Peter (c 1778-1834) moved to Uniontown by 1819
  • MILLS, Joseph, Jr. (1790-1876) moved to Ohio in 1823
  • WRIGHT, Moses (1792-1854) moved to Ohio in 1814
  • STOUDENOUR, Jacob (c 1795-1863)
  • AMOS, John (1800-1867)
  • BORDER, William (1800-1881)

    There were earlier gunsmiths in Bedford County, but no surviving examples of their work have been identified.

    Admirers of Bedford County rifles sometimes wonder who originated the distinctive style. Calvin Hetrick theorized it was Peter White. The Whiskers did a credible job of demolishing that theory by (among other things) showing that Peter White made other rifle styles before and after living in Bedford County.

    The Whiskers proposed a Revolutionary War artificer named James Clark as the possible originator of the style. I upended that theory using that James Clark's pension application, which proves he never lived in Bedford County.

    As an alternate theory, the Whiskers proposed Joseph Mills, Jr. (1790-1876) as possibly being an apprentice of Abraham Schweitzer. One can place Joseph Mills, Sr. (father of the gunsmith Joseph Mills, Jr.) in Bedford County from 1792 to his death in 1833. This seems to make it more likely that Joseph Mills, Jr. (1790-1876) learned gunsmithing in or near Bedford County.

    From the above list, it seems like Moses Wright can be ruled out because the evidence suggests he apprenticed with Peter White, and moved to Ohio when he was only about 22 years old.

    Everybody is entitled to their opinions even if they are wrong, and (surprise, surprise) I do have my own theory about the origin of the Bedford school. I suspect that the gunsmith John Border (1776-1856) originated the Bedford style and taught it to his son William Border (1800-1881) and his son-in-law John Amos (1800-1867). I further theorize that any of those three individuals could have taught the style to John Border's sons Samuel Border (1814-1886) and Enos Border (1822-1888). William Border's sons Daniel B. Border (1826-1891) and John Border (1831-1864) could have learned the school from a variety of family members. For example, we know that Daniel B. Border was living with John Amos in 1849. We also know that a rifle exists that is marked "Amos & Border Company".

    The following shows the relationships between the Border family gunsmiths:

    To me, the surprising thing about the Bedford style is that it seems to have spread rapidly, with the (now converted) flintlock rifles of the earliest masters of the school sharing many striking similarities. The Border family, including John Amos, were major players in the Bedford School. The three gunsmithing sons and one gunsmithing son-in-law of John Border might help to explain the seemingly rapid rise of the school.

    It does not seem to be much of a stretch to think the school may have originated with the family patriarch John Border (1776-1856), who is believed to be the son of the Maryland gunsmith Sebald/Gebald/Gebalt Border. If not the originator of the school, John Border was surely the father, grandfather, and father-in-law of some of the major gunsmiths who formed the school. It also doesn't seem to be too much of a stretch to think that Joseph Mills, Jr. (1790-1876) and Jacob Stoudenour (c 1795-1863) might have learned from or been influenced by the Border family.

    Theories, including this one, are things we create to see if anyone can demolish them. This Border family theory is presented knowing that if it is eventually demolished, we will learn something in the process.

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